#WomenWhoWork: 9 to 5 with an Editor in the Sustainability Industry

Today's fast-paced world craves your attention every minute. It demands efficiency and success, and often pushing yourself to the last limit to achieve it. However, as known, there's a yin to every yang. Slow lifestyle manifests itself as a counter movement to our hectic lives.

Read More

#ConsciousLiving: Interview with Jennie Barck, Editor-in-Chief of The Maker Journal

Celebrating the contemporary makers of today, The Maker Journal supports slower fashion production and craftsmanship, and focuses on the skilled designers and creatives who dedicate their lives to making this change.

I had a friendly chat about conscious living and the importance of artisanal crafts with Jennie Barck, Founder of The Maker Journal, confirming that slow fashion is the new fashion model to be appreciated for years to come. This may make you rethink, too. 

Jennie Barck

Who are the most important makers in the UK now?

The UK has a variety of local, emerging makers at the moment, producing their collections at their studios with a small team, or at local factories, producing textiles with fabric mills. I have been the most impressed by young, emerging designers, such as Amy Revier and Skelton John, who tell a story through their poetic and well thought out designs that are radically sustainable: naturally dyed, handmade in small batches, using local raw materials, or handwoven. It is always lovely to see designers succeeding in their niche markets this way. On the other hand, it is also inspiring to see larger, globally successful brands, such as Phoebe English, still making everything locally in England, with a focus on hand-making and resurrecting traditional craft.

The Maker Issue I

What does 'Made in England's heritage actually mean in 2017? Are we slowly starting to forget about its importance and value?

It means different things to different people, but most designers I have spoken to are very passionate about the topic. 'Made in England's heritage means using the resources we have available here, while we still have them, it means adding a layer of value to the garments, being able to control the entire manufacturing process and therefore being able to guarantee quality to a larger extent. It also means exploring traditional crafts that could lend way to new approaches to the garments we are currently wearing. All of these things tend to slip off our minds if we are not reminded about it in our daily lives, like most people working in the fashion industry are. Consumers don’t think these factors are as important when buying items that are cheap; it has become more important to keep up with the latest trends and have them easily accessible, so ‘Made in England’ has become a thing that very few care about today.

Why should artisanal approach still be appreciated in today's era of mass production and mass consumption?

I think an artisanal approach is important from the perspective of the story of the brand; it is important there are still people out there who appreciate these crafts, knowing where their products are made - from yarn to an actual garment. When a brand becomes more transparent about their entire product chain and makes it a pillar of their ethos, it adds value to the garment. People are willing to pay for it, as long as they know their garments are made with respect to local communities and workers. If there is no one employing people at mills in England, for example, their craft is going to be forgotten and there won't be anyone to resurrect it after that. It is too precious of a thing to lose, as it is such an integral part of culture in many parts of the world.

What is The Maker Journal's manifesto? What makes it stand out from other publications also appreciating unique, hand-made fashions and a slower approach to life?

The Maker Journal stands for celebrating the people who are passionate about creating our clothes. It is, first and foremost, about bringing them to the spotlight instead of the people who wear the clothes; it focuses on their processes, thoughts and lives. What makes it stand out from other publications - The Maker has an unfailing ethos that all designers we support must match our criteria of conscious fashion, as well as having a focus on smaller scale, emerging and young designers instead of big brands. The Maker hopes to bring to attention to designers who are not in the public eye as much as they deserve to be, and have more intimate conversations with them that you don’t see in most mass media.

"When you are doing something you believe in, in due course people will flock to you, if you are putting your heart and soul into it."

The Maker Journal. 

The Maker Journal. 

What have been the most difficult moments in making The Maker Journal happen? Share a few tips on how to make dreams happen.

There are always bumps along the way when you are trying to reach a dream, and when it is something you are utterly passionate about, it can be even more devastating. Along the road, when I was doing research and saw people doing similar things, I sometimes felt like there is so much I still have to do to achieve that level of success. You will get the feeling that people are not going to find you or you have less followers than the next person. These are all things that will fall into place. The most important thing that I learned throughout the process and from my conversations with other creatives is that, when you are doing something you believe in, in due course people will flock to you, if you are putting your heart and soul into it.

How do you personally approach slow living? Are there any practices you follow on a daily basis?

Slow living has become a very important aspect of my life through working on The Maker, but it has always played a crucial part. To me the main pillars of it are only buying things that I have considered and truly need, purchasing magazines and enjoying timeless features and think-pieces, taking time off social media and reducing its usage, appreciating crafts and the process of making, doing yoga and eating well from local farmer’s markets. These are all things I will do on a daily basis, when the pace of life gets a little overwhelming, and I feel that I just need to get back in touch with myself and reconnect. Life can sweep you up and push information at you constantly, but there is a decision to be made about not letting it get to you.

"When things take longer, you automatically go into a mindset, where you appreciate a certain process; you think about the tools being used, the hours that go into it, the different skill sets, the people working on it."

The Maker Journal. 

The Maker Journal. 

What are the key elements defining your daily routine? 3 habits you cannot live without.

I have always and will probably eat a lot of fruits; it is the cornerstone of my eating habits and a day without fruits just wouldn’t feel the same. I will have kiwis, clementines, nectarines, plums, oranges, bananas, apples, grapes. It makes me feel rejuvenated and fresh. I will try to go to the gym most days and if I do manage, after a good session of sweating, I love to take a cold shower and go into the sauna and just disconnect for 15 minutes. Another obsessive habit I (along with millions of others) have is listening to music on public transport. I like to use city bikes whenever possible, but when I’m on a bus or tube, I absolutely have to listen to my favourite tunes.

"It has become more important to keep up with the latest trends and have them easily accessible, so ‘Made in England’ has become a thing that very few care about today."

In your opinion, what are the key fields that should be slowed down concerning the making or production process?

Out of all fields, what strikes me the most on a daily basis are food and fashion, but I have recently started thinking about interior design, too. It is so frustrating to see how fast fashion has to be pumped up, and how much of it is wasted as a consequence of that. To see people participating in this cycle makes me think of how much needs to be done to make any kind of minor change. These are critical fields that are not working sustainably at the moment, but there are things being changed, for example, in France, they banned throwing away leftover food, which I think is a wonderful solution. The best solution, however, would be to change the minds of the consumers, and make them realise the detrimental outcomes of this kind of consumption, that would bring us closer to a change. 

What's the worst effect of today's consumer society you have personally witnessed?

What I witness on a daily basis is our need to get things now, without appreciating all the hard work that goes into making things happen. We all want the easy, quick fix that doesn’t satisfy us for long, but gets rid of that desire in a split second. When everything is given to us as ‘same day delivery’, we fail to stop and appreciate the people who have made that happen. When things take longer, you automatically go into a mindset, where you appreciate a certain process; you think about the tools being used, the hours that go into it, the different skill sets, the people working on it. This appreciation is a key part of the success of the slow fashion movement, and it is an antidote to mass production and throwaway culture, which has affected today’s consumer society in major ways.

One must-have summer product du jour we should all desire now... Something trendy, yet ethically-made?

I’ve been looking for the perfect summer sandals and the LRNCE bobo sandals come very close to that. Handmade to order in Morocco, with influences from handcraft traditions, each pair is as unique as its maker and they are completely contemporary, too. They have a leather strip with cotton raffia ruffles, and come in different colour combinations. The brand takes influences from local tribes and the colours of Marrakech, giving them a unique twist.

#FAQ Slow Living Philosophies

Roles reversed — what if the Brand Director of Savant, Hanna-Amanda, gets to reminisce about the philosophies of slow living and about what guided her to running a slow lifestyle publication strictly at her own pace? 

Published as part of the study about the relevance of slow living philosophies amongst college students conducted by Aki Kei Maedomari, BA (Hons) Design Communications student at LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore. 

Maison Assouline, London. Copyright: Maarika Talja. 

Maison Assouline, London. Copyright: Maarika Talja. 

Aki Kei Maedomari: My project is on slow living specifically for college and university students.

Initially, when I started my research I found that Millennials are probably one of the most stressed-out generations, currently. I found that a lot of articles and books were talking about people, who are already working or more established, who have families, they don't really focus a lot on the younger generation. I wanted to see how slow living could maybe help students cope better with stress when they're in university.

Part of my research, I have done some reading and I've familiarised myself with it, but I am looking to explore some details that I don't really know about yet, or perspectives of other people who maybe know more about it.

Aki (A): Tell me more about you and your background.

Hanna-Amanda (H-A): The difficult part. I actually come from an interesting region at the border of Scandinavia and East Europe - from a tiny country called Estonia. To date, I’ve been officially away from there for four years. Initially, that’s right after graduating from high school, I moved to Paris to do some fashion networking and internships there. Soon after, I came to London to study Fashion Journalism, and my final project was about developing my current publication, Savant.

It naturally followed that I found what I really wanted to do just soon after graduating. I’m only 23 myself [laughs], such a baby! I’m planning to circulate the magazine in Scandinavia and here in UK as well, then let it spread out to different regions.

Copyright: Maarika Talja. 

What do the philosophies of slow living mean to you and how would you describe the term to someone who’s not familiar with it?

H-A: To me, slow living is all about focusing on quality rather than quantity. It is actually paying close attention to what you're doing, without losing the goal. It's all about embracing life's little moments and the process itself. I think we should all fear waking up one day when we've been working, say, for 30 years, only to realise, what's the outcome? What have I done so far? What have I achieved?

We may, by that time, have the money and security, but we should ask ourselves, did we really enjoy the process? It's actually about creating a more meaningful path for yourself and enjoying the process, whatever you might be doing.

The key to slow living philosophy is embracing the process itself rather than the end result. I have faced people, who are questioning it, and they often think that [slow living] equates to aimless floating. Actually, it has nothing to do with moving at a snail's pace; rather it is to do with knowing what your priorities are and setting a pace for yourself to reach the end result. I also think that it's a natural backlash culture that follows suit the digitalisation of life’s every aspect, and all those fancy applications that we're so keen on using. It's about slowing down this speed culture that has exhausted us all. 

That's actually is true, because when I was talking about slow living with my friends, they thought that it's about like doing everything at a slow pace. Like physically slow and being lazy.

H-A: [laughter]. Let’s just say that’s a common misconception. It's not about speeding up, it's not about slowing down, but just everyone should know what's the goal they want to reach. [It’s about] doing everything at the pace that's necessary for reaching it.

How did you become interested in slow living and when did you first come across the slow lifestyle?

H-A: Actually, I've been more interested in it from the time Kinfolk, the magazine, has been around, so roughly from 2011. But to reflect back, I also came across the concept when I used to live in Paris — the French have this term called joie de vivre, which means enjoying the cheerfulness of the everyday, taking time to enjoy life’s little moments. You see people sitting on those pavement terraces after long work hours, observing their surroundings with a hot or cold beverage, and doing absolutely nothing, like people watching. Because they really embrace absorbing these tiny little moments, rather than just running around, doing their eat-sleep-work-repeat [laughs].

Around the time, when I was researching slow living for my Final Major Project,  I was stuck because what I felt when flicking through all those glossy magazines was that - aghhh! it's just all geared forward by consumerism. I also saw more and more young creatives turning to sustainability. It was like a wave bursting out on its own. These practitioners are really standing out, I feel like they’re not overshadowed by fast fashion producers anymore, or at least they don’t allow themselves to be. I quickly connected the dots between sustainability and fashion, and also gave more thought to the overwhelming blinking, blinding speed culture that has exhausted us all. Eventually everything - my love for slow living and slow fashion - connected. Or perhaps, to summarise, [people are] in general looking to move to a more slower pace of living, because that’s, in essence, our most natural way of being.

We yearn to go back to natural, authentic life as it should be. It's not a utopia anymore, we are really communicating with each other too often in digital worlds. Perhaps, it loops back to the backlash culture again — it’s just that, somewhere deep inside, we feel very isolated and we're looking for human connection again. Also, there's a book called In Praise of Slow by Carl Honoré that very much inspired me. I don't know if you've heard of it, but it collects all of them, slow philosophies. It's a very interesting read as well, which I recommend to all wanting to become connoisseurs of slow living. 

"I think we should all fear waking up one day when we've been working, say, for 30 years, only to realise, what's the outcome? What have I done so far? What have I achieved?"

What does your typical day look like and what do you like to do to unwind, when you've had a particularly stressful day?

H-A: After familiarising myself with slow living principles, I'm not very receptive to stress anymore. Of course, we all experience stress, but every morning, when I wake up I just try to think about my priorities and set the direction for the day. I'm always setting it actually before I start with my day. As long as I accomplish the small things that I've set for myself in the morning, then I have no reason to feel stressed, so that's like a good tip to follow.

I'm also a very impulsive person and creative person, there are no two days that look the same for me. If I am really in London and it's my typical working day then I wake up roughly at 11:00. It may sound very late to someone, but I'm more like a night person. I do my emails for two hours from my bed and I just drink endless amounts of coffee, of course!

Then I make my way to my local coffee shop around one o’clock. I do proper research, I manage my team. I have very few people working for me, but I just give them directions, then I focus on the articles that need to be done. I can also get stressed, even from writing only. I experience some anxiety sometimes, because it's very difficult to just sit in one place and focus on writing for three hours.

When I experience this stress, I just write something on my personal blog quickly to unwind. In the evenings I usually go to some events and I finish quite late. I get home around midnight or one o'clock at night and then I actually continue on with writing until 3am, but it's a way to relax for me. I'm just writing constantly and then when things do get stressful, then I just have a nice glass of red wine. That's what you call slowing down the pace of ‘slow living.’

I would say that I'm a good example of that slow living practice, because I always make sure that I actually do enjoy what I'm doing. I don't wake up the next day and think that, “Oh, I don't like what I'm doing, I want to change,” That's why maybe also stress is not really bulking up in me as well.

"[People] often think that [slow living] equates to aimless floating. Actually, it has nothing to do with moving at a snail's pace; rather it is to do with knowing what your priorities are and setting a pace for yourself to reach the end result."

You write a lot about fashion and culture. They tend to have a stereotype of being very fast in nature in terms of trends. When you're coming up with the concept for Savant, did you find it hard to overcome the stereotypes?

H-A: Surely. I would say that at least 90% of the magazines out there are still focusing on this idea of glamour. But developing slow lifestyle principles is more oriented to the niche market, which makes marketing it more tricky. I was able to be at the right place at the right time and discovered that attitudes are changing, and there's actually hunger for a new kind of medium that celebrates the slow culture and sustainability, too.

I actually found that no slow lifestyle magazine is celebrating fashion very boldly. Perhaps, due to clichéd or outdated views that it may not be as glamorous. I would say it's always more complicated to market something that might not be as glamorous and requires a more niche audience for it. Especially when it comes to younger audiences, then they often get hooked by this term of glamour, or anything that's related to it.

I could sense that there's also this more intellectual audience growing out of this ‘bubble’, who want to familiarise themselves with the consequences of the fashion industry and what it does to our planet. I think we should always ask ourselves, is there a more meaningful way to living and what's behind the glamour?

Copyright: Maarika Talja. 

I guess that ties into my next question, who is your main target audience and do you reach out for people, who are maybe not familiar with this culture, or skeptical even, or those who are actually already interested?

H-A: My key target audience is the generation what we call ‘isolated connectivity’. Generation, who is trapped in the scrutiny global capitalism and is yearning for escape. It's a very international audience formed of creative professionals and those aspiring to engage in creative practices. The age range is 25 to 35. Of course, there are variations and its potential is to offer stories and visuals to any audience, who is perhaps not so familiar with slow lifestyle, too. It has an inspiring, aspirational role in that respect.

"It's always more complicated to market something that might not be as glamorous and requires a more niche audience for it. Especially when it comes to younger audiences, then they often get hooked by this term of glamour, or anything that's related to it."

It aims to get more people interested, even those who are skeptical or would perhaps not consider learning anything about ethical fashion, slow art or slowing down the pace of life. Otherwise I would say, most readers come from the Scandinavian region, and also Central Europe, but they're still a bit behind. 

I also wanted to say it's a very engaging platform. Those, who benefit the most from it, are the ones actually very interested in slow living practices. I encourage more people to come and see what's happening in this sphere. 

Copyright: Maarika Talja. 

Copyright: Maarika Talja. 

Do you actually have people who give you active feedback from within your audience? Do they actually tell you what they enjoy about your magazine?

H-A: I think I've gotten a lot of positive feedback and people saying that it's something very unique to the market. Also, they always say they learn something new, so it has kind of a educative value to it as well. There are a few artists, who follow the stories actively and write me e-mails to be featured. They are interested in publicity, but I still say that it’s a very personal project. I'm trying to select very carefully, who I actually want to feature on Savant. But they seem to [enjoy the fact that] there’s an educative value to it.

"Often we set very high goals for ourselves and then we wonder why we aren't reaching them. If we break them down to smaller pieces and even tinier pieces, then it's easier to find the way out and actually achieve the larger goal. By completing all the small steps."

Since you've embraced slow living, do you find that there have been many differences in the way that you approach your work and daily life? Any positive or negative?

H-A:  I'd say the overall quality of my life and work-life balance has improved. A fun fact is that I actually used to be a perfectionist all my life. I always took a lot of time to do things. Of course, there's this external pressure coming from your teachers, mentors, and then you just have to kind of work at a very speedy pace. I think I've never actually been a big fan of speed culture and I always questioned it. Even when I was studying myself, because I'm a very impulsive person, I get carried away easily.

I always felt that they should be more focused on the individual qualities we students have and we should be allowed to work on that skill-set rather than assuming that there are some kind of ‘universal’ qualities, and thus we can all maintain the same pressure and pace. I feel that when I started taking things easier or slower, then there's this — the negative side maybe — that you actually detach yourself from the understanding of pressure entirely.

Although in my industry, if I focus on the end result, if I focus on quality rather than quantity, it can be beneficial. I understand that in universities, there's so much external pressure that otherwise you just can't live up to it. I would say that everyone should choose the right pace for progressing with their own work rather than necessarily speeding up. Negative is that this is tricky in an environment when someone is pushing you for better results in a very tight timeframe and expecting certain (mostly high) results from you.

Would you say that it's easier for you to maintain your slow living lifestyle because you're your own boss?

H-A: Yes, of course [laughter]. But then again, there are still situations, when I am not my own boss, so I have to know how to handle both ways. 

What would you say is the most striking quality in the artists you've interviewed or met or who have developed the slower approach to their work?

H-A: One word that comes to my mind, it's passion. They all share a very fiery passion. I feel that there's always like a force beyond money and success that gears them forward. They're actually all looking for improvement that could help many generations. For example, avoiding environmental harm, or helping to establish jobs in recycling.

They all have this deeper or more altruistic quality to them that they are actually looking to do things better for future generations as well. And they all show that it's possible to be productive without compromising the quality and the story of what they actually want to produce. I feel that mass production, digitalisation, and speed culture have had a somewhat negative impact on them. They are in search of improvement and they're working towards a larger social goal that's bigger than themselves.

My project is actually geared very much toward students. As you were recently a student, I assume you know maybe more about slow living now than when you were starting up the magazine. How do you think it would've helped you when you were a student?

H-A: I also mentioned earlier there are external circumstances that put us under pressure, regardless of what we ourselves want to do. Even though I perhaps knew about practices and principles of slow living, but our education system is built on getting the most out of us within a minimum amount of time. It's a quite a ruthless system that focuses on the end result. We don't really care about the process and the thinking process itself.

This external pressure often leads to losing focus, and interest, and motivation. I think it would be more beneficial if the overall education system would also cherish slow lifestyle principles and let us develop our skills in our own pace, but sadly, that's a utopia for now. Of course, I do understand why it functions the way it does, because there are still people higher up, who find that stress is a great motivator and maybe otherwise, we wouldn't do any work at all, because there's no external pressure.

"[These artists] are in search of improvement and they're working towards a larger social goal that's bigger than themselves."

The principle of self-motivation and self-development according to your own individual personality traits, or skill-sets should be definitely more encouraged, but it's fairly alien now to the education system. I think I also experienced often this external and internal conflict, because I was told to do so many things. There was this multitasking going on and, of course, I wanted to be good at absolutely everything, which is impossible. 

I was often very, very stressed and I had to push myself in a very cruel way. I wasn't capable of doing absolutely everything perfectly. I often even collapsed or stayed up till late or did all-nighters. We should ask, if it's really what we want actually, for the students to push their limits to that extent? And it's not the answer.

Copyright: Maarika Talja. 

Copyright: Maarika Talja. 

Do you think that maybe it's perhaps not possible for students — because we're both from a creative background, would you say that it's maybe not possible at all for us to adopt philosophies from slow living or that it would be just harder as students compared to working individuals?

H-A: That's a tricky question. No, I think we all have to realise that we can't, humanly, be good at absolutely everything. We just can't. As soon as we selectively figure out what are the skills that need to be improved and what are our general priorities. We accept those, and that these are the important things, and these are perhaps not important things, and we only work towards the top priority things. Then, I think that's already a good starting point, a more balanced lifestyle.

Also, it's very good to just selectively choose the key areas that are good for you and improve them. Set the pace for your own work and also, set smaller goals for yourself. Often we set very high goals for ourselves and then we wonder why we aren't reaching them. If we break it down to smaller pieces and even tinier pieces, then it's easier to find the way out and actually achieve the larger goal. By completing all the small steps.

What advice would you give to a college student who is keen on adopting the philosophies of slow living and what would you say are the fundamental areas in their lifestyle that would need to change? 

H-A: I would say that their way of thinking perhaps in terms of priorities and non-priorities and also letting go of this culture that celebrates, even idealises, achievement. Also, good understanding of your own personal skills that need improving — clear focus on those areas. It's useful to ask from yourself whatever you're doing, is it meaningful and how am I progressing? Is there actually a larger goal I'm working to or it's all meaningless or someone else is telling me what to do and I actually don't want to do it at all? Maybe there's a conflict going on so you should actually reconsider if it has a meaning at all to you and your personal development.

Also, letting go of any digital distractions can reduce stress. This helps to avoid procrastination. That's maybe pulling you down, that you're not progressing as fast as possible. It's crucial to understand that stress is often what kills creativity and your real progress. 

I was going through your magazine and your articles and I find them all very interesting. The one that I found the most interesting was the one about the tapestry (Alex Keha). Which one do you think was your favourite artist that you met or the one that you found that maybe sparked your interest in any way?

H-A: The tapestry one is really good, but from the recent ones I would like to highlight this Danish brand called Aiayu. They are very unique because they have from beginning incorporated a social mission layer into their brand. They have put a lot of consideration into their values and principles. They're actually creating new jobs in Nepal, India and Bolivia.

They’re using the oldest artisanal techniques that have been established [in those regions] and all the clothes are still made by those old women, who really have the traditional skills. And then, all the production is actually brought into Europe. I would say that combining something very modern with traditional skills in a way that you’re actually helping to make this world better. This is a very altruistic, high-thinking prospect.

Slow.ee — Pioneering Estonian Eco Fashion Revolution

Helen Puistaja — founder of the first online slow fashion boutique Slow.ee — is on an altruistic mission of bringing eco fashion closer to the Estonian public, and make it more accessible in our half-Scandi land. She assures that the eco revolution hasn’t happened rapidly, but Estonians are more conscious about their consumption habits than ever before. I met Helen at a quaint cafe in my hometown, Tartu, to talk the present and future of eco fashion in Estonia. What an honour to exchange ideas with a brave woman pioneer dedicated to changing things one generation at a time…

Helen Puistaja, founder of Slow.ee

Helen Puistaja, founder of Slow.ee

Personally, I find your idea of a slow fashion concept store relatively unique in the Estonian market. What were the main concerns in this infinite fight between the fashion industry and the environment (large-scale and the ones you considered on a personal level) that informed the creation of Slow.ee?

The idea preceded already about 5 years, but I somewhat sensed that back then people were not ready for my vision as such. Originally, it started when me and my sister were facing an infinite dilemma of where to get the most basic clothes in Estonia — the most simple, ‘everyday uniform’ type clothes, such as black and white T-shirt, tight black jeans, the most basic sneakers, that would also be of good quality, and we felt like these items were impossible to find in Estonia at the time. So for a while we were playing around with the idea of a store specialising in wardrobe basic items, but then I went to Germany for a year and we somehow dropped it. After a year, though, my thinking had changed and I had also turned into a vegan, which had invoked another level of thinking — I was more concerned about the environmental impact of fashion-making than ever before, so I knew there needs to be an ethical twist to it. I wasn’t really contemplating the concept and its necessity, because I generally have this attitude in life that if an idea pops into my mind I immediately execute it, trusting my gut instinct. I don’t even bother to go into too much detail, but just consider the fact that ‘oh, there’s a gap in the market’, nothing similar exists in Tartu yet. So, Slow.ee was born. 

“I generally have this attitude in life that if an idea pops into my mind I immediately execute it, trusting my gut instinct.”

Nothing similar existed in Tartu, but elsewhere in Estonia? How does your approach stand out? 

There are actually three similar boutiques in Estonia, but they’re all located in Tallinn [our capital]. It seems to me that they are focusing on eco fashion and strictly certified items, but what was particularly missing from their approach was focusing on educating the consumer about the environment and the impact of fast fashion. They’re style direction — what I perceive as romantic and hippie — is also a polar opposite to mine. I didn’t notice too many classic, everyday basics within their selection. 

What's your initial reaction to the cliche that perceives eco fashion as something not as glamorous, e.g. namby-pamby linen cloth products that look a bit outdated. On the other hand, we see fast fashion as something desirable — piling those fashion items high into our shopping basket offers us fulfilment, we are gaining immediate gratitude from simply buying those items. However, do you feel that people’s attitudes are starting to change?

Considering [the realm of] Estonian market, I truly understand where this perspective comes from — there are not many sustainable fashion alternatives on offer to balance it out. We still only have a choice of hippie dresses and those flowers and fairies, but a lot of excellent brands are out there and slowly cropping up here as well to offer balance to the market. I also hope to bring them closer to the Estonian public. You brought out the fast fashion issue and the satisfaction we gain from buying [new things], which could be related to psychology. By no means I am an expert, but I had a thought that, from an early age, we are being sold that idea of ‘shopping makes you happy’. So often we are just buying new things and new things, without focusing on our main problem, and [find it easier to] kill it with the good emotions we gain from the act of consumption. It is easier to show the audience that the other side of fashion has a lot of variety to offer than root out the necessity to constantly consume and crave and seize for new things. It is a deeply-rooted concern; addiction which takes years to reverse. 

Slow.ee PopUp at Tartu Kaubamaja, September 2016

Slow.ee PopUp at Tartu Kaubamaja, September 2016

Slow.ee PopUp at Tartu Kaubamaja

Where does this phenomenon come from that we see shopping as a reward — we subconsciously hide our true concerns behind conspicuous consumption and mindless buying craze, and also tell our children that ‘If you behave well, I will treat you to some goodies, I will reward you with a treat or two.’

It is the easiest way [to deal with it]! It is an easy way out, especially when it comes to kids, who see things and want chocolate and candy in the shop. If the kid wants something and is shouting in the store, then you cannot put up with [the unpleasant scene] in front of everyone. And when they get the treat, then they become completely silent immediately. 

Perhaps it is to do with us spending too much time in those artificial environments these days — all our entertainment revolves around huge shopping centres, whereas it is inseparable that when the children drag along and see fancy things, they immediately want them too. How do we get out of that vicious cycle of consuming things and perhaps realise that there are other ways of spending our leisure time? 

I think these issues are all interrelated. It is not only about buying better quality clothes, which are better for the environment and therefore for our health, but it is also attached to the concept of personal development. After all, it is an individual matter to come to this realisation — you yourself need to force yourself out of that cycle of commercialism and reflect more on yourself to make rational decisions and understand that you don’t need that new item to be happy. Firstly, you should always ask yourself, perhaps there’s something else missing in your life, it might be that somewhere deep inside there’s another reason behind [craving for a thing]. 

So you believe that every person has an individual responsibility to open their eyes to the idea of environmental responsibility? 

It can be approached on many different levels and through various layers of importance — starting from your own health to [what is to do with] the environment. The easiest way to convince parents to act greener is the fact that they always want the best for their children and they don’t want to wrap their child into those clothes full of chemicals. Last week I held a presentation at a kindergarten, and I find it a very clever approach to speak to people to whom the future we build for ourselves and our children is more tangible. I want to do things better for the world simply to be a better place, but I don’t have this particular person in mind whom I am doing it for, but parents have that special person because of whom they should do things in a more considerate way. Nothing will change overnight, but let’s take it generation by generation then. 

“[…] From an early age, we are being sold that idea of ‘shopping makes you happy’. Often we are just buying new things and new things, without focusing on our main problem, and kill it with the good emotions we gain from the act of consumption.”

How did parents react to your presentation? 

I only had limited time to speak, so I used the shock therapy method. I showed them images like, here’s a child sitting on top of a dumping ground, that is the reality. A young, exploited child sewing somewhere in a dirty factory, that is the reality. To see the images of the huge amount of sewage water that drains into the natural waters from plantations and factories, is only one side of the coin, but I think this is what people have the strongest reaction to. There they sat and stared with petrified faces…

Don’t you often get the impression that these problems and concerns seem somewhat distant, so out of reach from us? For example, we often hear the news that somewhere in Bangladesh a factory collapsed, and immediately think, who cares? What we actually don’t realise is that we are contributing to these incidents on a daily basis by buying those fashion items, toys and homeware, which are crafted by children of the Developing World. 

During the presentation I gave at the kindergarten the headmaster pointed out savvily that, “we feel like they are extremely unhygienic and unkempt there, but it is our rubbish they are sitting in.” She was confronted with the epiphany that this little human is sitting on top of our rubbish, not on someone else’s rubbish. Of course, there will always be people who couldn’t care less about preserving our environment, and there’s nothing much to do about it. But if you take that garment full of chemicals and wash it in the washing machine here, then the infused chemicals reach us one way or another. Then comes the time we have to learn to take responsibility for it. 

Of course, we are often presented with the beautiful lie that they are actually happy to have that job in a factory mass producing clothes… 

They are! Because they don’t know a better way. Perhaps it is the best choice for them out of all choices, but it doesn’t justify the sad reality — exploitation of these young people.  

I’ve also noticed that slow fashion still stands on the pricier side of the market compared to its Fast Fashion sister. To me it seems like stating the obvious, considering the high production costs and ethical approach, but how has the audience’s reaction been so far — do they perceive eco fashion as something lavishly expensive or affordable? 

I have also tried to take in orders for goods that are more affordable. However, I’ve been keeping in mind that the things I offer cannot be too cheap. In order to cherish the item more,  you need to think the purchase through and ask yourself a few questions — how to combine it with the already existing pieces in your wardrobe; how does it go together with your personality. I want the customer to see it as an investment — she is willing to spend a larger amount, because that way it also lasts for longer. My target audience — of course, all people could act more considerate and consume better — are people who have already found their own style and know that the lifespan of the purchased item will be infinite. I am that person myself… I know nothing about fashion! On the other hand, I have developed my own unique style over the years, which is not very significant, but I feel good in my own skin wearing my signature clothes, and when I do buy something, I wear it at least for a year…two… three… four, maybe even longer. 

And when you divide the cost of the product with the number of years worn…

It is overall much cheaper indeed. 

As a true fashionista, I am also struggling with the results of excessive fashion consumption habits in the past — I’ve got heaps and heaps of old garments, which I’ve disregarded for long and, as a result, I cannot find a way to get rid of them anymore. It just seems to me as a mindless waste, both financially and environmentally. 

I would also like to highlight that I don’t support mindless wasting. That comes without saying that when people all of a sudden realise they should consume less and invest in better quality, durable clothes, then it necessarily doesn’t mean they have to swap their wardrobe against a new one. The items that already exist should be used until they last, without the attitude that “I am now environmentally conscious and I only need to consume organic clothes.” I am also struggling with finding the best option to send off the old items to recycling. 

Tell me more about the brands you’ve chosen to introduce to the Estonian market. According to which criteria did you select them? Do you keep your own personal taste in mind, or think that, ‘I don’t actually like it, but my customers certainly do’?

I aim to keep a characteristic line in the selection of products, not to diffuse things unreasonably, because my aim is that the regular customer, who comes every once in a while, knows that they will certainly find items of a specific style from my store. If I would only consider my own personal taste, my store wouldn’t be customer-friendly at all! (laughs). It would be only for a strictly limited audience then. When I fill in the orders, I usually have specific prototypes in mind — people whose opinion matters and to whom I turn to when I need advice about product selection.

When I was studying in London and my course was completing our final major project, our tutors would often ask in awe, “Who do you keep in mind, when designing these products?”. There were artworks that were designed in a very incompetent way and we would often answer, “Don’t worry, I personally also don’t like it, but the one who purchases it, will adore it, hands down”. I think it also cannot be that controversial…

Agree! Well, of course I am considering what the consumer thinks, but I also have to remain true to my own vision — if I am doing it alone now, then it is my brand, my soul that has been poured out to take a form of a store, and I cannot do it inadvertently at this stage. I am always trying to look for the middle ground bringing together my own personal taste and an understanding of what the customer wants and needs. 

Do you believe that slow fashion is still targeted at the niche market? Who is your actual target audience? You already mentioned earlier that someone who has already found their own personal style. Do you have anything else to add to this equation?

I wouldn’t say that slow is the right word to use here, but consuming consciously is certainly becoming more trendy and common here, more than it was a few years back. 

Well, the brands you represent, use specific principles to be more environmentally considerate… 

After all, the reality of things is, for making ends meet, you need to sell your products. This is the… 

Together: Point of conflict!

Did I understand correctly — you can produce something ethical, but when you sell it in large quantities, then the end result comes across as completely unethical? 

When you look at the entire process as a whole, it is absolutely acceptable that people need clothes and they want clothes, nothing wrong with that, but then we should start from the fact that the items we wear have been crafted keeping the nature and people in mind, and when the garment reaches the end of its lifespan, then it is crucial it won’t be thrown out to the dumping ground immediately, but the whole recycling process has to complete the full circle. Then the act of consumption becomes more reasoned and thought-through, too. 

How would you evaluate the slow movement in Estonia compared to Scandinavia and the rest of Europe? Assuming that they already stand a step ahead of us, how could we progress to their level? How could we fill in that education gap when the subject of living greener is concerned?

To be honest, I preserve it more as a natural process, but as much as I’ve kept track [of the progress], it can be said Estonia is still a step behind. Although I think that the progress gap is not immeasurable anymore — people are more aware of the harmful effects of overconsumption and thinking green has become valuable. Of course I can perceive the rapid change in the mindset and general attitudes more sharply due to the fact that I am also an active member of the vegan community here. 

Oh, veganism has become an entire movement on its own in Estonia. 

Yes, all of a sudden there are vegan cafes popping up everywhere and we also boast a wide variety of organic food stores. Judging by that, I think we shouldn’t define the gap in being slow in progress — we only need more activists, who create these stores and make whole foods and the organic produce more accessible [for the everyday consumer]. 

One thing I have noticed, though, is that everywhere in Europe, the excessive use of plastic bags is strictly prohibited, but Estonians haven’t adopted that policy yet…

Not to mention that a few days back I just got angry with Selver [my local food store], where there was a striker on the food scale saying: “Please place all the products with different prices in a separate plastic bag.” AAAAGGHHH! Pure nonsense! 

I also believe that they should at least encourage using paper bags, or… 

Why do I need to place a single item in a plastic bag? I can weigh a single tomato without it.  

That is indeed ridiculous. 

I do understand there will always be people who would place even their single carrot in a plastic bag, but the store has a responsibility not to encourage it. I cannot buy any food products that are wrapped in heavy plastic packaging… in Estonia, they sell leek wrapped in plastic. If I see something like that, I just refuse to buy it. 

“My target audience — of course, all people could act more considerate and consume better — are people who have already found their own style and know that the lifespan of the purchased item will be infinite. I am that person myself… I know nothing about fashion!”

What other environmentally responsible principles do you follow in your everyday life? Apart from being a vegan…

I hate wasting water. Although our bad habit of letting the tap run freely while we are brushing our teeth is not even comparable to the amount of water wasted on growing cotton in India, but I try to avoid wasting water as much as possible. Also, as mentioned, I am not fond of using heavy packaging. The loveliest surprise awaiting me when I moved to my new flat was that next to our building are 4 separate recycling bins — one for general waste, one for plastic and packaging, one for cardboard and one for organic waste. Now I recycle everything separately. No one is an über-human, but at least as much as I humanly can. 

Have you also reduced consuming fast fashion? 

To be fair, I have never been particularly fond of shopping — when I was brought up I was always encouraged to think my purchases through. I still belong to the generation who remembers the time when everything wasn’t so easily accessible and available in our market, so it is fairly a modern-day concern, when you have limitless opportunity to consume and consume. 

Maybe partially this could be the reason why Estonians are reluctant to accepting eco fashion and consuming less, because we are so used to not having anything available… 

And now we have more than enough, so we have to take advantage of it! Maybe that’s the reason why it takes longer for us to understand that we are better off with consuming less.

In a nutshell, could you bring out a specific aspect that concerns you the most related to your start-up?

To be fair, in Estonia there are thousands of people who are dedicated and ambitious; who are willing to invest all their free time to help and work 12 hours in a row, but in the end it all comes down to the finances and readiness to act. But it is not a hindrance at the moment. We can do it!

I would again like to point out that we are inserted into this materialistic and superficial cultural environment that encourages consumption and therefore we also encourage our children to look for the missing happiness in rewards we can buy only with money. How to change that mindset and replace it with thinking greener? Pitch me an effective action plan.

I think everyone needs to come to that conclusion themselves that this cannot go on any longer. What we can do is to educate people as much as in our will and be a positive example. Sadly, the way it works with certain things in life is that when you force them upon people, then they refuse to conform, and as a result, act in a reverse way. We certainly don’t want that. I personally try to offer a variety of possibilities — to filter the products according to my own vision and ideals, to educate people on the negative effects of consumption and be an exemplary figure in thinking green. And then everyone individually slowly gets there in their own pace, if they do… 

How is your experiment called pineapple leather versus Estonian weather progressing? (hinting at the shoes made of Pinatex leather [pineapple leaves fibres] Helen is wearing)

They haven’t seen any rain yet! I also haven’t deliberately jumped into shower with them to test the water resistance, but they are extremely comfy and allow the feet to breathe. 

So you recommend them? Will they be available for us to buy?

I have introduced only a couple of pairs at the moment. My final e-store launches in October and then feel free to order and test out yourself!

Where do you keep your inventory and send the products out?

Under the kitchen cupboard. I have a teeny-tiny apartment and you wouldn’t even notice that there’s a whole store full of goodies hidden somewhere… everything is perfectly fitted in. 

Thinking economically! Both laugh out loud. 

Lately, Slow.ee PopUp store could be spotted at Tartu Kaubamaja, (expectedly) from December onwards, Slow boutique will be open to customers in the newly-refurbished Aparaaditehas…


Beauty Is Beauty Is Beauty Is...The Natural You: Estonian Eco Cosmetics By Sõsar

Words: Johanna Raudsepp

Lately, applying my all-natural face moisturiser first thing in the morning has become like a second nature - it leaves my skin firm and gives it an immediate healthy glow. I couldn’t think of any fresher way of starting the day’s beauty routine. In Northern Europe, the appreciation of natural beauty is nothing unusual: it has gradually become sort of a trademark for us, which translates into our modern-day beauty industry, too. Natural cosmetics, consisting of pure ingredients derived from our surrounding biosphere, are nowadays widely known as bio-organic or eco-friendly cosmetics. As a cherry on top, these fuss-free superheroes often boast environmentally friendly packaging, too. 

Sacred Forest Peat Mask by Sõsar

Sacred Forest Peat Mask by Sõsar

To further understand the buzz around fuss-free, bio-active cosmetics, we talked the essence of beauty with Piret from the Estonian cosmetics brand Sõsar (‘Sister’). Whilst creating their products from all-sustainable resources combining modern-day science with local folk medicine, Sõsar not only serves organic skincare products for women, but has introduced an entire range for everyday use for the modern, global man. Perhaps that rather unusual stunt reveals why we have fallen utterly in love with their all-natural range…

What is beauty? 

Beauty is something very effortless that exudes from within. It reflects in our entity, the way we speak, [in our] physical stance and attitude towards ourselves and one another. Beauty is healthy, not artificial. It’s inside all of us already. [It’s] like a diamond which needs polishing to become a rare brilliant. The question is, will you polish your diamond or cover it with paint? 

"I believe that we all are already beautiful the moment we wake up. It’s a whole different question, whether we have the ability to see that beauty."

What inspired you to launch Sõsar?

Sõsar was born out of a personal need for cosmetics which would highlight natural beauty without damaging our skin and body with synthetic preservatives or colourants. I consider myself to be a bon vivant when it comes to cosmetics and skincare. I value the highest quality, the purest and the most effective natural products that help you stay youthful and glowing. [The idea] came to me once I realised that what is considered ‘best’ isn’t always the most expensive or dressed in the fanciest packaging. I quickly came to the conclusion that everything depends on what’s on the inside - the rest is often just a beautiful facade. As I soon found out there were others who shared my values and believed in the power of nature — thus Sõsar was born. 

Piret Laasik, founder of the Estonian eco beauty brand Sõsar

Piret Laasik, founder of the Estonian eco beauty brand Sõsar

Aside from the obvious, why are natural ingredients better for our skin’s health?

Everything in nature is already in perfect balance — we don’t need to extract, add or remove any components. The compote of fabricated substances [that stand at the other end of beauty industry] might not even give the desired results, but will rather create an addiction to the products. We should get to know nature better and learn how to benefit from it, rather than fear it. Natural products help to create a balance in our organism. We don’t need to apply seven layers of make-up or moisturise our skin on a daily basis, because our body and skin have the natural ability to be healthy and glowing if we knowingly support that. I believe that we all are already beautiful when we wake up. It’s a whole different question, whether we have the ability to see that beauty. 

"Beauty is healthy, not artificial. It’s inside all of us already. Like a diamond which needs polishing to become a rare brilliant. The question is, will you polish your diamond or cover it with paint?"

Besides women’s cosmetics, Sõsar also offers products for the modern man. What is important to keep in mind when creating a beauty product for men? 

What is most interesting about men’s products is that men need to be encouraged to use said products, especially for skincare. [They should keep in mind that] it doesn’t make a man less manly. In fact, [it is not a myth] that we, women, like men who are naturally handsome and take care of themselves. After all, men have the same kind of skin problems as women do. Healthy skin will give men confidence in building their career, and they will also benefit from that confidence in social situations…in their private lives. What’s great about natural products is that they are actually suitable for both men and women. 

Wild Man product range by Sõsar

Wild Man product range by Sõsar

If Sõsar was a character in an upcoming movie, what would she look like? How would she take care of her skin?

Sõsar would be a character called ‘Natural Beauty’, who makes heads turn in awe as she enters the room. It’s not about the perfect brow or having the perfect hair. Her beauty reflects in who she is, her gaze, and how she walks. She’s mindful that knowing her worth, getting a good night’s sleep and weekly beauty rituals are the key to beauty and youthfulness. And she doesn’t take no for an answer. Fresh air, good quality food and an active lifestyle are an essential part of her life. 

If you’re as obsessed with natural beauty as we are, go check out Sõsar’s webpage at www.sosar.eu where you purchase their skincare products. (PS! They ship all over the EU!)